Early childhood initiatives in Hays County will get a big boost, helping prepare all area children to succeed by the time they enter school, as the United Way of Hays County announced recently it will implement the nationally-renowned Success by Six program, assisted by several community partners including Texas State University, the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce and San Marcos CISD.Education issues in general, and particularly the importance of early childhood, are now “front and center” among San Marcos local elected officials, community leaders, business and economic development partners, notes Kim Porterfield, president of the United Way of Hays County board of directors.
“Texas State University jump-started this important community initiative when President Denise Trauth asked last year’s Presidential Fellow, Michelle Pope, to help lead the development of San Marcos’ P-16 Council,” said Porterfield. P-16, which stands for Pre-K through grade 16 (post secondary) is a national movement to increase collaborative efforts among educators and community stakeholders to increase educational success.
United Way of Hays County is obtaining Success by 6 licensure from United Ways of America to help provide the local infrastructure to develop the effort. “The United Way of Hays County board is committed to working collaboratively with our partners to help level the playing field for all children and ensure that San Marcos kids start school ready to learn,” Porterfield added, “Once the initiative is established in San Marcos, it will be expanded to the rest of Hays County.”
“Local control is a unique feature of Success by Six ,” explained Porterfield “Just as with United Way of Hays County, Success by 6 will be run by a local group of committed Hays County folks, dedicated to research, collaboration and best practices that will be most beneficial to our youngest citizens,” stated Porterfield.
Success By 6 (SB6) is the largest network of early childhood coalitions in the country. SB6’s programs and practices vary from community to community, but the goal, no matter what community, is to focus on changing community conditions through leadership and different strategies to prepare children for school, explained UWHC Executive Director Bobbi Carmichael, who made the announcement the recent UWHC 2009 campaign kick-off luncheon. “This will give our partners stature in seeking funds, influencing policy and supporting the community goal of school readiness,” Carmichael said.
Over the past year, Presidential Fellow and Director of P-16 Initiatives Michelle Pope has brought community stakeholders together, developing a steering committee, a strategic plan and holding summits toward creating systemic change that helps improve education and create a seamless system from pre-school through post-secondary education.
The result? Seeking Opportunities Achieving Results (SOAR) is the name of the new collaboration among the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce, Texas State University and the San Marcos public schools. Hundreds of hours of meetings, summits, collaboration and outreach boiled the educational partnership focus to three main areas: Early childhood and kindergarten readiness, college access and workforce development and community engagement.
Continued public discussion with SOAR partners, San Marcos parents, and other stakeholders revealed that the top educational concern in San Marcos is early childhood, Pope said, noting that she will help develop a steering committee, strategic plan and other plans for San Marcos’ Success By Six initiative.
“The top educational priority determined by the multiple groups in San Marcos was early childhood. Since then, SOAR has been a partner in helping to lay the groundwork for early childhood efforts in our community,” Pope added. Current demographics of the area contribute to the urgency of a collaborative, community focus on early childhood issues. “Children living in poverty are less prepared for school because of a lack of resources. Forty percent of San Marcos residents make below $25,000 annually, and almost three/fourths of San Marcos CISD children qualify for free or reduced price lunch,” she said.
Pope is pleased with the SOAR / Success By 6 collaboration. “SOAR is a proud partner of Success by Six. Success by Six will build an infrastructure that supports early learning and school readiness in our community. It is our hope that children have the necessary resources and support to promote success for our youngest of citizens,” she said.
“SB6 will help children be ready to hit the ground running when they enter school, lowering the probability of falling behind at an early age and increasing the likelihood of success in both high school and higher education,” said Carmichael. A goal of SB6 is increasing kindergarten readiness in San Marcos. “Children who are ready for school before they even get there are much less likely to feel overwhelmed or confused and stay on grade level as they progress through school,” she added.
Chamber President Phyllis Snodgrass is confident that SB6 will help to enrich the San Marcos community in the future. “The San Marcos Chamber of Commerce recognizes that educational attainment is fundamental to economic and talent development for the future of our community, Those efforts must start with an effective early childhood and kindergarten readiness program,” said Snodgrass. “Success by Six has a proven track record of creating effective early childhood coalitions and this initiative will help us better ‘connect the dots’ and increase the effectiveness of the programs we have in place.”
San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer welcomes the community-wide focus on Pre-K. “I am thrilled that our community is pulling together in a united effort to address the needs of our youngest citizens. With the dual goal of helping young children who are delayed catch up with their peers and by reaching out to new parents at the birth of their children, family illiteracy issues can shift from intervention at a later age to ensuring that all students are ready for success when they enter school,” she said.
Preparing hundreds of San Marcos children for success in kindergarten currently falls on the shoulders of Bonham Pre-K School Principal Rosemary Garza, who is looking forward to SB6 because of the positive outcomes it is known for throughout the country. United Way Success by Six initiatives have a national reputation of making sure that every child is ‘healthy, happy and smart’ by the time they enter first grade, and I am very excited that we will have our own Success by Six initiative in Hays County,” said Garza.
The principal of Bonham Pre-K isn’t the only one who is looking forward to this sort of initiative finally coming to San Marcos. A former Bonham Teacher of the Year described how an uneven playing field can a be detrimental for children starting school. “I had three and four year olds who had never held a fork. They didn’t know what to do with it. They had never held a book, so the idea of turning pages, words, and pictures were alien concepts,” she said.
SB6 national goals include identifying current progress toward a comprehensive system of high quality early childhood services in San Marcos; to have clear and agreed upon understanding of the mission, role and functions of the community-led SB6 initiative; to develop goals, objectives and anticipated outcomes for work; and to identify the organizational structure and appropriate organizations or individuals needed to make the work a success.
One of the first events will be the Pre-K Now Teleconference in December. Traditionally hosted by UWHC and the Texas State University Office of Community Relations, this event brings together local early childhood care providers, school district and university faculty and others for a national teleconference. Pre-K Now is a public education and advocacy organization that advances high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all three and four year olds.
For more information, contact Bobbi Carmichael at (512) 353-1420.
by: Kim Porterfield
Community Relations Director
Texas State University